March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 10.04

Thin Is in

Part of the problem with early laptops was it felt like you were dragging around a desktop in a bag. Of course, this was also part of why they were so coveted—they worked just as their immovable brethren did.
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By Tim Bajarin




Part of the problem with early laptops was it felt like you were dragging around a desktop in a bag. Of course, this was also part of why they were so coveted—they worked just as their immovable brethren did. Thanks to a continual push to reduce heft—actually making yesterday’s monsters mobile—yet be as powerful as possible, two categories of portable computers have emerged, and you won’t break your back carrying either.

The workhorses in this space are called thin and light, and the best-selling product in this category to date is IBM’s ThinkPad T series. These are often called two-spindle portables because they have a hard drive as well as an optical drive and in most cases feature screens in the 14- to 15-inch range. In fact, close to 65 percent of all laptops sold to date are thin and lights, which will remain the most popular type of portable computers for use in business, personal and educational computing environments. They are extremely popular because they make no compromises when it comes to functionality.

Although there is another category for larger computers that weigh over six pounds and can have even larger screens, often called desktop replacements, the other really interesting portable computing category is ultralights, such as IBM’s ThinkPad X series and Dell’s popular C400 Latitudes.

To get these ultralights under four pounds, they mostly have 12-inch screens and only one spindle via the hard drive; as a result, vendors make real compromises in the size of hard drive and battery, the size of the screen and, more critically, the lack of an optical drive.

Even with those compromises, ultralights have become very popular in SFA and FFA programs where a lightweight computer is very important to the user’s ultimate mobile work style. Yet, many times when I spec an ultralight for use in any part of an IT program, I am asked about finding a more powerful ultralight with a bigger screen and an optical drive—but to also try and keep it close to four pounds. Until last year, the options for no-compromise ultralights were slim. (Pun intended.)

Now, thanks to some innovative new designs, the options for full-featured, no-compromise ultralights are richer. There are a couple of small systems that fit this bill. Among my favorites is the Sony TR3A ultralight. It has an incredibly sharp 10.4-inch TFT widescreen, a DVD/CD-RW drive and yet weighs about 4 pounds. The only gripe I have with the TR3A is that its keyboard is not fullsize, and the right shift key is half-size, making fast-touch typing often difficult. Another good model in this space is Fujitsu’s Lifebook.

But the one I’m most excited about is the new Dell 700m Inspiron ultralight. Though technically a consumer notebook, it features a 12.1-inch screen and includes a DVD, CD-RW or DVD/RW optical drive, Wi-Fi and a Pentium M 1.6GHz processor—and still weighs four pounds. With 256 GBs of RAM and a 30GB hard drive, it sells for only $1,499.

Ultralights have become hot products with sales executives who want to watch DVDs while on the road, pharmaceutical reps who use videos as part of their presentations and, of course, many others. They’re no-compromise laptops with the rich features found mostly on larger machines, and they meet almost all of a professional’s computing needs without the extra drag. •

Tim Bajarin is president of the Campbell, Calif.–based consultancy Creative Strategies (www.creativestrategies.com).
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